A young girl, startled, stigmatised.
As Christmas approaches, the images of Mary, the one chosen to bear Jesus, remind us afresh of her youth and her humility. Mary, blessed by a God she knows and worships. Willing, but needing to carry along with the burden of pregnancy the shame, the questions, the assumptions of others, and questions about the future. Affirmed by God’s revelation to Joseph and to Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary trusts. She is encouraged and her burden is shared. She focuses on the God she loves, and responds with praise.
In Thailand, a Buddhist nation, Christmas Day is a normal school and work day; soon New Year will be celebrated. Few people know the story of the life and death of Jesus. Fewer people still, less than 0.5 %, bow to worship the Saviour. Buddhists have no God to honour. Young people in Thai society may be quite secular, yet many of them will bow before statues of Buddha, worshipping with incense, mantras and food offerings.
The Radical Grace team is getting to know KaJii*, a beautiful Thai girl of fifteen years of age. Her mother passed away when KaJii was young. Her father cares for her deeply, but his life is difficult. He has been affiliated with gangs and drugs. He is living with HIV. KaJii and her younger brother were brought up by a caring Auntie and Uncle in a small rural community. When Uncle died, life was more difficult, but her Auntie continued to provide for KaJii. Recently, rumours began to circulate within the community about KaJii and life choices she was making. Her father has known Ann and Daeng, the leaders of Project Radical Grace, for many years. He initiated contact with the Radical Grace team and introduced his daughter, KaJii. We ate together and talked a little. KaJii participated quietly – it takes time to build trust. We opened the Bible and read from Psalm 68:19 ‘Blessed be the Lord who carries our heavy loads every day, the True God who is our salvation’. KaJii wept. We told her about Jesus, the burden-bearer, and prayed together. KaJii and her father were invited to Project Radical Grace’s community ‘safe space’, Shalom House. We met together recently, hearing more of her story – young, surprised by pregnancy, vulnerable to HIV infection, abandoned by her Auntie, regarded by many as an object of shame, burdened. But KaJii is not alone. Her future may be difficult, but her father is standing alongside her and her boyfriend’s family have accepted her. As the Radical Grace team also journeys with KaJii, she can glimpse the grace and love of the God who calls her to come to Him.
Broken relationships within families are common in Thailand. Broken people often look for love and acceptance in all the wrong places and teenagers are especially vulnerable as they question their identity and sexuality. Recently released data states 6900 known new HIV infections in Thailand within a twelve month period. The largest group of which are girls aged 15-24 years of age. Currently, these young Thai girls are the people most at risk of HIV infection in Thailand. This age group is also those least likely to get testing to know their HIV status and access treatment.
As a response to this huge need, Radical Grace is developing the Looking for Love curriculum. Working with church youth groups as a starting point, Looking for Love camps are teaching about our need for love, God’s agape love. Teenagers are being challenged and equipped to change unhealthy behaviours. Broken people are learning to honour their sexuality and others, and to pursue God’s best. Psalm 139 is rebuilding identity as people see themselves as God sees them – loved sons and daughters created by Him for a hope-filled, purpose-filled life.
— Lynell Thomas, Project Radical Grace
Pray for KaJii’s father: he wishes to change and to take more responsibility for his family, including his daughter and the grandchild that will be born.